While attending last year’s Sacred Harvest Festival, a small Pagan festival held in Minnesota, I heard that a dreaded rumor was true. The festival had to move. The venue, a beloved place set in the midst of a Burr Oak grove, had become unfriendly toward any camping and wanted to focus on large music festivals. To say that I, and many other attendees, were unhappy is an understatement. The trees and the festival were inseparable in my mind. How could you have Sacred Harvest Festival anywhere else?
As the months went by without an announcement of a new location, my concerns increased. Would Sacred Harvest Festival even happen? What would the new place look like? Can the festival survive a venue change?
When the new location was finally announced in spring, a place called Atchington, my apprehension only increased.
I had heard of Atchington in passing. I knew it was about 90 minutes north of the Twin Cities and was purchased in 2013 by Paul and Janette Ferrise, active members of the Twin Cities Pagan community. While I knew it was their dream to one day turn this 40 acre parcel of land into a self-sustaining retreat, it was presently just woods surrounding an open hay field. Other than their home, there were no facilities at all. There wasn’t even a road to get to the field, where I was told the festival would take place.
I considered not attending. I complained on Facebook. I pumped people for information and was told the venue was being worked on by the Ferrises and by volunteers from Harmony Tribe, the group that produces Sacred Harvest Festival. I was assured that there would be a bathroom, a place to shower, and a way to get into the open field to camp. They were working on it. No, nothing is ready yet, but they’re working on it.
I didn’t feel assured.I decided to go for a long weekend instead of the entire week. I also decided to pack light because if it was miserable, I was throwing my tent back into my car and leaving. Yes, I am a delicate snowflake, and I was already biased against the place.
After attending the festival I can say that Harmony Tribe made the right decision in relocating its festival to Atchington. The amount of work already done is impressive, containing many festival venue Best Practices. The Ferrise’s future plans are equally impressive, and it’s clear they have been working with permaculture experts.
The site’s entrance is what you’d expect to find in a rural area. A long drive cut into a heavily wooded area. I could tell immediately when I got to the newly created section of dirt road, because it wasn’t as compacted as the main driveway, and it became slick after a rain. The road dumped out into the meadow, which was far smoother than I thought a converted hayfield would be. We were able to unload at our campsite and then park close by. Everything was clearly laid out with an eye to traffic flow, accessibility, and being as gentle as possible to the land.We had purchased electrical and, as of two weeks ago, the electrical wasn’t laid in yet. I had been told it was very limited, but this turned out to not be correct. There was plenty of electrical for any of the 140 attendees who wanted it and then some. In talking with Paul Ferrise, he noted that this year those wanting electrical were packed in a bit tight, but next year the electrical would be extended out further in two directions. This is welcome news for those who have medical conditions requiring access to electricity, but who still would like to attend a camping festival.
The very next thing that I noticed (I drank two Coke Zeros on the drive to the festival) was the portapotties. Two of them were pink and were reserved just for women. They didn’t have the urinal in them and had a hook to hold your purse or bag on the inside. I appreciate having separate women and men’s portas. Let’s just keep our disgusting stuff separate, shall we?
All portas had an LED light in them, a huge upgrade from any other Pagan festival I’ve attended. Just having a built in overhead LED light for night time use kept the portas so much cleaner.
The portas were located near the showers. Showers are usually cringe-worthy at camping festivals, but these were another pleasant surprise. The two stalls were built up on wood platforms, one with a ramp for accessibility while the other had stairs. The showers had hot water on demand systems, and the grey water was collected in tanks underneath. There was plenty of room to shower, dress, and move around. In fact, they were downright spacious. Dr. Bronner’s body and hair wash, which is very earth friendly, was provided, and we all got to experience the joy of having our hoo-hoo tingle.
Harmony Tribe members say that the showers were a late addition, and the original plan was much more modest. Two showers for 140 attendees was about right. There was rarely a line, nor did you have to pay for them. Ferrise said that more showers, with a slightly different design, will be added before next year’s Sacred Harvest Festival.
On the other side of the showers were tanks for filtered drinking water and a sink station for washing hands or dishes. It had a nice long counter-top where many attendees brought items to wash and dry. The drinking water was just what you’d find from a home tap, so next year attendees won’t feel the the need to bring bottled water. Because the tanks formerly held raspberries, the water had a slight raspberry flavor. I considered that a bonus.
Atchington appears to have solved one problem that plagues most Pagan events: how to get people to properly recycle. They did so in the easiest, most straightforward way. Several barrels set up with signs on them that list what can be thrown in each barrel. Genius. There was a barrel for food scraps, one for aluminum cans, one for plastic bottles, one for paper, and another for trash. They were emptied each evening. No more guessing what goes in the single recycle bin and what goes in the trash bin.
I looked in the bins periodically to see if people were following the rules and each time I looked, everything was thrown in the appropriate barrel. It appears that clear labels and easy access to proper disposal places are all it takes to make recycling and composting work at a festival. I’m wondering how this will scale up to larger events.
There were other nice touches at the venue, such as Paul driving attendees into town once a day to go to the grocery store; unlimited firewood for personal campfires; and the Tree of Life with accompanying permanent shrine. You could see the Ferrises were serious about living the Pagan ethics of caring for the earth and providing thoughtful hospitality for their guests. Planned upgrades include a storm shelter, gardens, and a place for musical performances.The Ferrises have worked hard to create good relations with their neighbors and to include county officials in their plans. The Ferrises said that the officials that they’ve worked with have been extremely helpful and very open to what they’re trying to accomplish. Their neighbors are excited and supportive of the permaculture ideas the Ferrises are putting into place, and so far haven’t had a problem with late night drumming. The festival site itself is located in a large, cleared field and most attendees, like myself, camped in full sun; or full rain depending on the weather. If it hadn’t been so temperate, that could have created problems for some people. By which, I really mean me, and I did feel a bit under the weather after one 80 degree sunny day. There was some shaded camping in the tree lines, but those sites went pretty quick.
Paul said next year’s plans include clearing out some of the underbrush in the woods to provide more shaded camping and cutting a trail so attendees can enjoy the creek that runs through their property. The field was fairly smooth, but there were odd holes and ruts so you needed to watch your step when walking around. A few days and nights of heavy rain left standing puddles of water. However, it was less muddy than I thought a field would end up, so drainage doesn’t appear to be a problem. In addition, the new road had to be worked on after storms went through Thursday night.All in all, both Harmony Tribe and the owners of Atchington appear to be a good match for one another. Both are willing to work hard to create a wonderful, uniquely Pagan space to hold festivals. And, both were willing to put in a considerable amount of money to make this happen. Harmony Tribe paid for two years in advance, while the Ferrises turned a 5-year plan into a one year reality.
Other festivals and events have already booked space at Atchington, and now that I’ve been there, I can see why. It’s a beautiful property with dedicated and friendly owners who are willing to get their hands dirty and who appear to have the skills needed to do much of the work themselves. I’m very excited about attending Sacred Harvest Festival next year and can’t wait to see all the new changes happening at Atchington.